This Ukulele Thing

How can I justify this ukulele hobby, something where I am, at best, mediocre? It doesn’t quite hold up to my more prominent hobby, that photography thing, where I have some some semblance of confidence and pride?

I can’t.


Let me set this up for you. Current OFW work has been hard and taxing, and since I work nights from the apartment, my breaks aren’t limited to the bathroom, or the rare trip going to the convenience store to buy something I really don’t need. Often, I play the ukulele. I had two, one was a birthday gift to myself last year, and another one was something I bought here, to satisfy the purchase itch. Last week, I got this:

Post-work stress reliever
Multi-effects pedal not mine.

It’s an electric ukulele, or an eleuke. Getting one of these isnt’ as hard as it was back in the Philippines, since there’s one music store with 1/3 of their stock here dedicated to ukuleles. The price is not steep compared to their guitar equivalent, partly because it doesn’t even have a real pickup (it uses a Piezo-type, same thing used for cheap, clip-on tuners).


I don’t think I’ve written much about how this started and progressed, but here’s a brief timeline:

  • Around 2009, an officemate had a ukulele lying around the workplace, given as a gift by a suitor. I started playing with it, and tried to master the main riff to Beirut’s Postcards from Italy.
  • I bought the same cheap ukulele at a Lyric store in Cubao
  • I bought a Samick UK-50 concert ukulele at a Lazer store in Cubao. I sold this early 2011.
  • Late October 2010, I joined Ukulele Underground Philippines, when it was just five-people-strong. We now have over 600 members on our Facebook group.
  • I went on a Cebu-Bohol trip for my birthday last year, and arranged to pick up a for-export koa-top concert ukulele in Lapu-lapu city.

The story continues here in China, where most of the known, branded ukuleles are made.


Music-wise, I never aimed to play the hottest ukulele pop hits out there. I still refuse to know the chords to ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow‘, or ‘Soul Sister‘. I was oddly committed to learning mostly old songs I grew up with, and this idea was further cemented with a purchase of those 1001 songs chordbooks, published by good ol’ Jingle.

See, despite a music snob persona -which I used to hold firmly on to, until I got into, oh, JPop- there is now a great amount of self-awareness to appreciate the unique personal history. Before the smooth jazz beginnings, 99.5 RT-fueled American Top 40 hits, the rock music entry (hair metal), and grunge, I had the normal Pinoy music preference: I knew the slow rock songs from 10-peso pirated tapes, I knew the love songs that just won’t die, and the beautiful Manila sound and MetroPop standards that cannot be revived to its original, sweet-sounding glory. This means the current repertoire is a mix of Bread, America, Elton John, Lionel Richie, Ric Segreto, and Basil Valdez. Just for the heck of it, yes, include Air Supply.

The eleuke made the current list of songs to play a lot more interesting though. Completing a run of Stone Temple Pilots’ Big Empty was exhilarating. If only I had this back in the 90s, when schoolmates shredded their axes, and I was left struggling with barre chords, because I had small hands.


I just I hope I won’t get up to this point again:


UPDATE: And this happened. This is what greeted me on a Monday morning. Went back to the shop, opened the case, didn’t really have to say anything else, and they let me pick a new one. Not so sold on the model I got, but it looks good with just a plain black nylon strap for an acoustic guitar. The old model doesn’t look good with a strap at all.

8 thoughts on “This Ukulele Thing”

  1. Hi where can you find good ukeleles within Metro Manila?
    What store are you referring to here: “there’s one music store with 1/3 of their stock here dedicated to ukuleles.” Please send me a message thru my email. I’d love to learn playing it too 🙂

  2. hi angel. i’m in china. there’s really no comprehensive store for ukuleles in manila for non-local brands, but there’s always sta. mesa, and the cebu guitar-makers like Susing’s.

  3. I first bought a uke expecting it to be something I played for a week or two and then got bored of. At the price of the cheap ones, that really isn’t an issue either.

    Several years later though- I still keep coming back to the uke. They are so much fun to mess around on, it’s like being able to make a puppy whistle.

  4. hi james. i dread the thought of going back to jinling dong lu every time because of the abundance these days of ukuleles over there. must resist!

  5. ukulele nowadays are really getting famous thanks to you tube.theres a store in makati for manilenas.when you start playing the ukulele you dont want to stop..thanks for this post..great post..

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